tonight on "nightline," one moment in time. a brilliant star extinguished. devastating news as whitney houston's death the night before the grammys. as she's mourned by music's greatest legends who talked to one of the last people to work with her in the days before she died. plus, whitney remembered. she sold over 170 million records. 11 number one hits. but her stunning career was clouded by a painfully public battle with drugs. from church singer to chart topping. whitney's path to fame, fortune and her tragic final moments. and the golden voice. the inside story of her most
famous recording of all, the epic ballad that almost wasn't, from the man behind the music. ♪ and i will always love you >> from the global resources of abc news. cynthia mcfadden, terry moran, and bill weir in new york city. this is a special edition of "nightline," "one moment in time: whitney remembered." good evening. i'm cynthia mcfadden. almost no one had what whitney houston had. a talent so big that fans in the millions gave their hearts not only to her songs but to the woman herself. this weekend, she was preparing for music's biggest night of the year, the grammys, where she had won so many times before, but it wasn't to be. tonight, her journey, in her own words and through the eyes of some of those who knew her best. ♪ and i will
>> reporter: it's as if the world lost its voice, one fan said. and what a voice it was. ♪ i will always whitney houston. a sweet and soaring melting pot of gospel and soul silenced at 48. >> thank you so much. >> last night, alongside the celebration of adele's big win at the grammys -- >> heavenly father, we thank you for sharing our sister whitney with us. >> reporter: the industry mourned the loss of the woman with the golden voice. >> amen. ♪ no matter what they take from me ♪ >> and tonight, fans in los angeles held an emotional vigil. while her body was flown on a private jet from l.a. back to newark, new jersey, where she grew up. there, mourners have been leaving flowers and candles outside the church where she first sang in the choir as a little girl. ♪ a choir her mother directed.
tonight, in charlotte, north carolina, the queen of soul -- >> one of the greatest singers that has ever stood before a microphone. >> reporter: and whitney houston's godmother, aretha franklin, remembered her. ♪ i will ♪ i will always love you >> reporter: meanwhile, today in los angeles, the coroner's office ruled out foul play. but they said the official cause of her death will not be known for weeks, pending toxicology tests. but a picture is starting to emerge of what houston's last days were like. she was working on songs for her you've coming film "sparkle" with producer harvey mason jr. >> she seemed great, upbeat, very excited about the project. >> on thursday night, whitney houston danced and partied at a hollywood nightclub. pictures showed her sweaty, disheveled, one leg bloody.
friends say she was drinking champagne. on friday, houston was seen skipping around the beverly hilton lobby, somersaulting at the pool. again, her clothes in disarray, her hair wet. >> she looked bad. her clothes didn't match. some people said she smelled of alcohol. >> reporter: on saturday, houston was in her room at the beverly hills hilton, preparing for a performance scheduled for the music business elite at clive davis' pregram mepregramm. she talked by phone with her cousin, dionne warwick, and her mother, sissy. 30 minutes later, her body was discovered by one of her staff members in her hotel bathtub. they called security and 911. she was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m. >> whitney houston simply put had the greatest voice in the world. she was a gift from god. >> reporter: with the crime lab van still lingering outside, it wasn't long before celebrities gathered at that same hotel for davis' annual grammys party.
this year, the celebration turned to eulogy. a heart-broken davis had a special bond with houston who was still a teenager when he first discovered her. nurturing her in good times and in bad. >> whitney was a beautiful person. and she had a talent beyond compare. >> i think clive is really, really, really devastated. >> reporter: veteran record producer david foster was at the clive davis party. the producer of three of houston's six grammy wins, i spoke to him this afternoon. so talk to me a little bit about the first time you met her. >> the first time i met her was, you know, with clive when he gave that big party to introduce her. she was 18. i came in from the back of the room. and i saw clive and right beside him was this beautiful body, from the back, in this gold dress, but i just remember going, wow, could that possibly be the girl that clive has been talking about?
and sure enough, she turned around and, glowing, whitney was such a star that you knew she was in the room even if you didn't see her. >> reporter: on sunday, bobby brown, whitney's former husband, flew to l.a. to be with their 18-year-old daughter, bobbi kristina who was so distraught she was taken to the hospital by ambulance and subsequently released. meanwhile, at the grammys, jennifer hudson offered up a tribute to houston of her classic "i will always love you." ♪ and i will ♪ will always love you >> there was a sense of destiny about whitney houston's career. back in 1993, barbara walters talked to her about it. >> did your mother want you to be a singer? >> she had no choice. i was singing by the time i was 7 years old. i knew that god had given me a gift, you know, i was very, very shy.
and very to myself. i mean, in high school, none of the kids knew i could really sing. >> reporter: could she ever. as the world was about to discover. just ahead, in her own words. whitney houston on her stormy marriage and private struggles. >> is it alcohol? is it marijuana? is it cocaine? is it pills? >> it has been at times. plus, the inside story of her most famous recording of all, "i will always love you," the epic ballad that almost wasn't. how are you? we're going to head on into the interview. john, jill...mr. jacobson... what's it like driving the fusion hybrid?
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♪ and the rockets' red glare in 1991, whitney houston dazzled at the super bowl with her rousing version of "the star spangled banner." ♪ and the home of the brave it was the start of the first gulf war. by this time, houston was the reigning queen of r&b. she had come so far so fast. >> wait till you hear her. here's whitney houston. ♪ i know you're listening god >> reporter: less than seven years earlier, she'd made her first national appearance on "the merv griffin show" at the age of 21. ♪ everything that i see she had a powerful man behind her, producing legend clive davis. >> clive had a beautiful relationship with whitney. she trusted him probably more
than she trusted anybody on the planet. >> reporter: over the next seven years she'd become the only artist to chart seven consecutive number one billboard 100 hits. ♪ the greatest love of all ♪ i wanna dance with somebody ♪ how will i know if he really loves me ♪ >> reporter: and then at 29, a movie star. as the beautiful diva pursued by a stalker in the 1992 movie "the bodyguard." ♪ and i will always love you the soundtrack shot to number one. and stayed there 20 weeks. that same year, she married bad boy singer bobby brown. he already had three kids from two relationships. and many thought he was an odd choice for pop's golden girl. a year into the marriage, they sat down with barbara walters. >> think this marriage is going
to last and last? >> oh, yeah. >> as long as we're here. >> till the end of time. >> reporter: or so she hoped. despite the public success, there were private struggles. throughout the '90s, there were persistent tales of substance abuse. houston finally sat down with diane sawyer in 2002 and talked about her drug use. >> we don't do crack. we don't do that. crack is whack. >> reporter: the line may have resonated but the problem was all too real. >> if you had to name the devil, for you? the biggest devil among them? >> that would be me. >> reporter: her life with bobby brown seemed to enter a downward spiral. culminating in 2005 with the short-lived reality show "being bobby brown" on bravo. >> i don't need money. i don't need cars. i have love. >> reporter: she described the experience to oprah winfrey in 2009.
>> a lot of people i think after seeing you on that show started to really worry about you and what was really going on with you. what was going on with you at that time? >> i wasn't happy with the marriage. >> were you happy with yourself? >> i was losing me into that. >> into the marriage? >> yeah. i tried to be pleasing. >> reporter: and finally fessing up to her drug use. >> we were lacing our marijuana -- >> with base? >> yeah, yeah. we weren't buying like $20 jumbles. we were buying paying money. like ounces. we would have our -- >> but you were free basing cocaine? >> basically. >> yes. ♪ lost touch with my soul >> reporter: later that year, she was back in the recording studio. she still had the magic. ♪ didn't know my own strength ♪ i crashed down ♪ stumbled
♪ but i did not crumble >> diane warren wrote that song for her. >> she's the best female vocalist of the last 40 years. anybody will tell you that. the best singers in the world will tell you that. ♪ my darkest hour >> reporter: she still had the voice. she'd been trying to mount a comeback and had that new movie "sparkle" coming out in august. ten years ago when she talked to diane sawyer, you got a glimpse of that resilience. the joy she had in living. and a reminder, she did almost have it all. >> i'm not self-destructive. i'm not a person who wants to die. i'm a person who has life and wants to live. and always has. i'm not the strongest every day but i'm not the weakest either and i won't break. >> ten years from now -- >> yeah. >> give me the perfect life for whitney houston. >> retired. sitting, looking at my daughter
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♪ if i >> reporter: it was the song that won her a grammy and adoration of millions. pure. simple. ♪ and i "i will always love you." it was 29-year-old whitney houston in full command of her talent. >> whitney has money notes with soul. it's the ability to hit a note dead on when she goes "and i." ♪ and i >> and she hits it, no bravado, and after about two seconds it breaks into bravado. it's like the heavens opened up. ♪ >> reporter: david foster has won 16 grammys from 46 nominations for songs with some of the greatest recordings artists of all-time. but no one, he says, was more talented than whitney houston. >> i would go, "sing this."
i'd do something crazy that would mean nothing to anybody except them. celene would give me exactly what i asked for, which just thrilled me. would i would ask whitney to do that, she would give me something different than i asked for. and 99% of the time, it would be something better than what i asked for. at first, i would go, no, that's not what i -- whoa, that's really something. and i'd forget about the idea i had. and that was the genius, part of the genius, of whitney houston. >> reporter: their first collaboration in 1992 was for the film "the bodyguard." a massive box office success, outdone only by the soundtrack, which sold 44 million copies. including hits like "run to you." ♪ i want to run to you ooh ooh >> reporter: and "i have nothing." ♪ nothing nothing >> reporter: but surprisingly, "i will always love you" almost didn't make the movie.
>> i didn't even know the song. i'd never heard of it before. we had picked the song "what becomes of the brokenhearted." although on the surface, ♪ what becomes of the brokenhearted ♪ i sat in my studio and i did not one but two demos of that song, played the demos for her. she would go, really, do we really have to do this song? it's a nice song but it's just not right for me. i felt the same way. >> reporter: the film's costar, kevin costner, came to the rescue. suggesting a then lesser known song written by dolly parton. ♪ i will always love you >> the next day, he called and he said, "i've got it, i will always love you." i heard it and i immediately heard the finished record in my brain along with the key change and the big boom. ♪ and i ♪ and i will always i ran to her trailer because i was so excited. i said, whitney, i've got it, i've got it, i've got it.
i played it for her. of course, she -- her face lit up because she knew, and i knew, that i had nailed it. >> reporter: foster and houston would go on to win three grammys that year. >> thank you, david, for such a great production. i mean, we did it, we did it together. >> reporter: the experience forged a friendship that lasted through the years. he produced one of her last recordings, "i didn't know my own strength." written by diane warren. >> i didn't talk to her about it. i was just doing it myself, thinking what she'd want to say, what she'd feel. you know. i crashed down and i tumbled but did i not crumble. i got through all the pain. i didn't know my own strength. ♪ i got through all the pain ♪ i didn't know my own strength ♪ >> reporter: tonight, she has been returned home to newark. her mighty strength soon to be laid to rest. ♪ hold my head up high ♪ i was not built to break >> whitney houston. "20/